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Maple Leafs gaining confidence under Babcock

Victory against Red Wings gives Toronto most points in NHL

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Exactly 882 days after leaving the Detroit Red Wings to become coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mike Babcock and his players have more points than any other team in the NHL. Toronto has a 6-1-0 record and 12 points, one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings and Tampa Bay Lightning.

But before fans start planning the parade route up Toronto's famed Yonge Street, let's pump the brakes here on the hype.

 

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It's still October.

The season is two weeks old.

The Maple Leafs have played seven games.

Remain calm, people.

Nazem Kadri is.

That Toronto finds itself in first place after a 6-3 victory against the Red Wings is admittedly "cool" according to Kadri, the Maple Leafs' center who said he'll take a quick peek at the standings in order to enjoy the sight of Toronto sitting in the No. 1 position.

For Kadri, such a sight is a novelty.

Video: Matthews helps propel Maple Leafs past Red Wings, 6-3

Since being selected by the Maple Leafs with the No. 7 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, Kadri has been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice, and the Maple Leafs have never won a series in his time with the organization. As such, being part of a team that has won six of seven to start the season is the type of momentum you can build off, especially for a player who has endured plenty of struggles here.

"Absolutely," Kadri said. "We've worked hard. We've worked countless hours, spent countless hours in the gym. We've all bought into the system to get into this position and beyond.

"We're proud of ourselves to be where we're at at this point in the season. But like you said, it's October. And we have a lot ahead of us."

Kadri makes no promises that the Maple Leafs will remain in or among the League's elite for the entire season. But he does see indications of it.

"We're getting there, that's for sure," he said. "I've been around this organization for a long time and I've seen a lot worse starts than this.

"Look, it's a fun feeling, a fun position to be in. It's fun to come to the rink when you are playing well, your teammates are playing well, so it's been really motivating for us."

When it comes to motivation, Kadri points to Babcock as the driving force who has never taken his foot off the gas from the moment he became Maple Leafs coach on May 20, 2015.

That day, Babcock deflected any suggestions he would be some kind of miracle worker for a franchise that has not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, when the NHL was a six-team League. Instead, he warned anyone who would listen that "there would be pain."

It didn't take long for him to find out just how much.

Video: Weekes on the Maple Leafs' win against the Red Wings

On Oct. 9, 2015, the Maple Leafs played their second game with Babcock as coach. It was billed as Babcock's homecoming, because the Maple Leafs were playing the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

It wasn't a pleasant homecoming. By 3:54 of the second period, Justin Abdelkader had a hat trick and Dylan Larkin scored his first NHL goal, and the Red Wings won 4-0.

"A little extra special for us to get a win against Babs," Abdelkader said at the time.

Since that game, Detroit and Toronto practically have the same record. With their loss on Wednesday, the Red Wings are 77-69-24 in that span under Jeff Blashill, Babcock's successor, with 178 points in 170 games. The Maple Leafs are 75-68-26, with 176 points in 169 games.

Clearly, the Maple Leafs have made improvement under Babcock, something Abdelkader noted Wednesday.

"I'm not surprised," he said. "I think they've got a lot of good players. They got [Auston Matthews] No. 1 in the [2016] draft and they have a lot of other high draft picks. That's how you have to build your team in the [salary] cap system.

"He's got those guys playing well. They're dangerous offensively and their power play is doing well. You have to give credit to Babs and his coaching staff."

The one person you can be assured won't be patting Babcock on the back is Babcock. Nor will he be showing his Maple Leafs the standings. That is not Babcock's way.

"From dawn until dusk, he works at making us better," Kadri said. "That's what you need with a young team. You need guidance to help you build a winning culture."

Just two weeks into the 2017-18 season, Babcock's Maple Leafs seem to be finding exactly that.

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